A Facebook post perpetuated a stereotypical perception our society holds of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities: I don’t care if you lick the windows, take the special bus or occasionally fall over, you hang in there Sunshine you’re special. Recognizing the intention wasn’t to be hurtful, the Wall post nonetheless demonstrates the thoughtless, insensitive things people say to be funny at the expense of individuals with developmental disabilities. A Google search revealed this quote as a popular t-shirt and greeting card for purchase. This Facebook post generated an additional comment: “with crayons and a helmet, maybe.”Committed to advocacy, I decided to respectfully raise awareness to this attitude and behavior which demeans, diminishes, and disrespects individuals with developmental disabilities. With a gentle apologetic opening, I explained these individuals aren’t a joke but victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome, hypoxia, epileptic seizures, and severe head injuries. Despite some mild defensiveness, my point was made and an apology offered. Things could have, should have ended there. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Another Facebooker announced she worked with special needs kids and thought the quote was funny, as if her job provided the credential to deem it a “thumbs up.” She commented how one of her kids screams all day and she thinks about taking him for a “for a long walk off a short pier!!” She further explained it takes a lot of patience, but sometimes she doesn’t have it, especially on that day when “I got popped.” She had to count to twenty because her fist was clenched in a reflex motion to hit “the kid” but didn’t because she knew “she couldn’t do that.”I wonder how the parents of these children would feel about these comments. I have no doubt it requires great patience, that it’s frustrating and stressful work, and there are days when patience runs thin, tempting a knee-jerk reaction to lash back. I’m unsure what upset me more: the utter insensitivity within the comments, or the individual’s rationale for not hitting the child verses recognizing s/he is a defenseless, vulnerable child.
Some children and adults with disabilities cannot express their feelings the same way you and I do. I’ve witnessed our staff compassionately, patiently, and respectfully manage emotional upset with redirection; it involved no clenched fists, no hard feelings towards the individual or defensiveness. Anyone taking personally such behavior from an individual, especially a child, with intellectual and developmental disabilities lacks the very understanding of those disabilities of those they serve, and perhaps, needs to consider a new career. Perhaps teachers and their assistants need greater training to understand the behaviors of those with special needs and how to effectively redirect their students’ behaviors. If teachers are overwhelmed, perhaps more staff is needed and more training on coping skills to prevent burnout. Stress and burnout are major precursors to the abuse and maltreatment of those vulnerable in our society.I made one final comment on this Facebook thread to clarify my point is about showing respect and compassion for people who’ve lived a history in the face of discrimination, and who have been the butt of jokes in the name of light-heartedness.
The sister of a former Campus resident once eloquently shared with our staff: “I hope that you . . . . truly understanding what a tremendously important job that you have; when you are tired, weary, frustrated – I would suggest that you try to put yourself in their position, and really try to imagine what it would be for you to live . . . . . . . in their body, mind and spirit.”In the Next Blog Entry: Unconditional Love and Care - “I remember this experience whenever I see the DSPs supporting our clients. Could I do this for another human being that isn’t my mother? I honestly don’t know, but. . . .”
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